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Post-Racial Racism: Racial Stratification and Mass Incarceration in the Age of Obama

Ian F. Haney-Lopez

UC Berkeley School of Law

January 18, 2010

California Law Review, 2010
UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1418212

What does the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency portend for race in America? This Essay uses the tremendous racial disparities in the American crime control system to assess race and racism as key features of contemporary society. The Essay begins by considering a compelling thesis that racialized mass incarceration stems from backlash to the civil rights movement. If true, this raises the possibility that Obama’s election, potentially marking the end of backlash politics, also represents a likely turning point in the war on crime. The Essay then reconsiders mass imprisonment from the perspective of “racial stratification,” a structural theory that emphasizes the simultaneous formation of racial categories and the misallocation of resources between races. A stratification approach leaves one less sanguine about rapid change in American race relations, though without disparaging either the historic nature of Obama’s inauguration or the possibility of incremental improvements in racial justice. Reflecting the continued need to push for positive racial change, the Essay concludes by arguing morally and politically for a renewed focus on racism, in particular on “post-racial racism.”

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

Keywords: race, racism, crime, criminal law, racial stratification, structural racism

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Date posted: June 12, 2009 ; Last revised: March 16, 2010

Suggested Citation

Haney-Lopez, Ian F., Post-Racial Racism: Racial Stratification and Mass Incarceration in the Age of Obama (January 18, 2010). California Law Review, 2010; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1418212. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1418212

Contact Information

Ian F. Haney-Lopez (Contact Author)
UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )
215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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